THIS EPISODE TAKES
BETWEEN THE TV
EPISODES "THE SON-
AND "THE DOCTOR'S
'THE COMPLETE FOURTH
SERIES' HMV EXCLUSIVE
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As the Sontarans
choke the Earth, the
Doctor battles to
keep both Martha
and Donna alive...
3RD MAY 2008
(45-MINUTE EPISODE, PART 2 OF 2)
The Poison Sky is a rare example of a mid-season two-parter where the second
episode is actually better than the first. Helen Raynor’s action-packed and spectacular
script delivers on every level, as well as throwing in quite a few surprises to boot.
This episode picks up pretty much where The Sontaran Stratagem left off. Newsnight’s
Kirsty Wark and her fictional US counterpart (once again played by Lachele Carl) show
the audience scenes of a panicking
world being choked by the poisonous
Sontaran gasses. We may have seen
similar scenes of worldwide anarchy
recently in Doctor Who and Torchwood,
but this doesn’t make the widespread
chaos depicted here any the less remarkable. Once again it is clear that the whole world needs saving, and there is only one man up to the job. The trouble is, the Sontarans have stolen his TARDIS as well as both his companions and he is trapped on Earth with only a UNIT colonel that he does not entirely trust to turn to.
“He wasn’t ‘Greyhound Forty’; his name was Ross. Now listen to me AND GET THEM OUT OF THERE!”
Indeed, for a huge chunk of this episode David Tennant’s Doctor finds himself playing off Rupert Holliday Evans’ stolid Colonel Mace rather than Catherine Tate’s Donna or Freema Agyeman’s Martha. This is certainly no bad thing though; whilst like the Doctor, my initial impressions of the legendary Brigadier’s successor were less than impressive, over the course of this story the Colonel gradually and begrudgingly earned my respect. When he ordered Private Ross Jenkins’ contingent to engage the Sontarans in spite of the Doctor’s warnings, I thought the man a fool. Each time he made derisive comments to or about the Doctor, I wondered how such a man could have risen to a position of command within UNIT. But steadily he grew on me. First he called off the slaughter of his men and then, in a stroke of true genius, he called in the Valiant and delivered a rather grand, anguished speech that put me in mind of Captain Picard’s renowned “the line must be drawn here!” speech about the Borg from the movie Star Trek: First Contact.
“The Sontarans might think of us as primitive, as does every passing species with an axe to grind.
They make a mockery of our weapons, our soldiers, our ideals. No more. From this point on, it stops.
From this point on the people of Earth fight back... We show the warriors of Sontar what we can do.”
The Colonel’s deference for the apparently knighted Brigadier (“Sir Alistair is a fine man, if not the best”) helped too. By the time that he single-handedly took on Sontaran Commander Skorr, I was actively championing him.
Furthermore, just as she did this time last year with her script for Evolution of the Daleks, Raynor gives Tennant some wonderful material to get his teeth into. The Poison Sky shows us so many different sides to the Time Lord; in forty-five minutes he goes from combative to tormented to utterly daft (“Are you my mummy?”) to just plain brilliant. He is not fooled by the Sontarans’ Martha clone for a second, nor is he is taken in by their elaborate stratagem. It doesn’t take him long to work out that their plan is not to conquer the Earth, but to convert it into a gigantic clone hatchery so that they can grow enough new troops to finally put an end to their perpetual war with the Rutans.
“Frankly you smell, you might as well have worn a T-shirt saying clone.”
And I love the Doctor’s conversation with General Staal on the UNIT view screen. It is just so Doctorish for him to change the channel and watch a bit of Tommy Zoom whilst the Sonta-rans do their little “Sontar-ha!” haka. Fantastic.
Even more memorable though is the tense telephone conversation between the Doctor and Donna. Stranded aboard the Sontaran ship, for the first time in all her adventures with the Doctor, we see Donna waver. She doubts herself. And she doubts herself when the fate of the whole world is resting on her shoulders. Tennant and Tate are outstanding together; the Doctor doesn’t want to have to ask Donna to tackle the Sontarans on her own but he has no choice. Donna doesn’t want to have to take a sledgehammer to a Sontaran but she has no choice. Yet, despite this underlying uneasiness, there is still room for comedy between them. Tate’s Peter Kay misquote “back of the neck!” is absolutely inspired, and the whole “you’ve got three fingers” gag is not far behind it.
“Back of the neck!”
I can really see why those like my Dad, who like the series but “can’t stand the mushy stuff”, hold Donna in such high regard. Her response to the Doctor giving her her own TARDIS key encapsulates her character really – “Maybe we can get sentimental after the world’s finished choking to death!” All business. And in The Poison Sky, Raynor shows us a fleeting glimpse of where Donna gets it from. Last week’s cliffhanger is not resolved by a typical bit of Doctor Who jiggery pokery; oh no. It’s resolved by Sylvia Noble taking an axe to her old Dad’s car windscreen! Where in the blue hell did she find an axe?
Ryan Sampson’s Luke Rattigan really impressed me again this week. When I reviewed The Sontaran Stratagem, I noted how in Doctor Who invading alien forces usually have a human agent of some description working for them. What I had forgotten though is that these human agents are invariably betrayed and then end up either a) dead in disgrace; or b) dead with honour.
Now I really did not see Rattigan’s redemption coming. The evident delight that he takes in seeing the Sontarans’ go to a war footing; his enthusiasm about his insane plans for “planet-fall”; and his crazed behaviour towards his own army of student genii had me convinced that this unhinged young man was beyond all hope. And perhaps he would have been, were it not for the intervention of a certain Time Lord.
The Doctor using Rattigan’s atmospheric converter to ignite the Earth’s atmosphere is one of the most memorable and also one of the most visually stunning sequences in the revived series to date. Watching our planet be consumed by fire only to be born anew is a powerful image in so many ways. It must have been a affecting moment for the Doctor too, who had
to witness his own world die in flames.
For their part, the Sontarans are every bit as imposing as they were last week, if not more so. In between broadcast of The Sontaran Stratagem and The Poison Sky, I watched The Invasion of Time on DVD and it really hit home just what a good job the production team have done with these revitalised Sontarans. In this story, the Sontarans are so well rounded and Raynor’s script is so well thought-out and considered. For instance, in The Invasion of Time, the first we knew about the Sontarans’ probic vent was when Leela threw a knife into one. Here though, this weakness is made a part of what it means to be a Sontaran – they take pride in staring “into the face of death!”
“The planet is going nuclear. I admire them. The bravery of idiots is bravery nonetheless.”
These new, better-defined Sontarans mean that the climax of this story is all the more tense. The Doctor beams up to the Sontaran ship with the means to wipe them all out, but he won’t destroy them without first giving them the chance to withdraw, which of course they won’t do even though the only alternative is obliteration. If they are to die in battle, then so be it. And so it comes down to the Doctor having to make that awful choice again: coward or killer?
Mercifully for the Doctor, young Rattigan seizes the opportunity to redeem himself and does “something clever”, switching places with the Doctor and then, with one last scornful “Sontar-ha!”, blowing the sausageheads away.
There were a few other nice touches that I enjoyed about this episode too; little things like
the North Koreans being prepared to chip in with a nuke to stop the Sontarans, and Captain Price giving Colonel Mace a cheeky snog once they’ve saved the world. Even Rose’s mute, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance was well executed. Who needs “Bad Wolf”, “Torchwood”, or “Saxon” when you’ve got Billie Piper’s face?
“I’m good here, back at home…”
On a final note, I’d like to applaud this story’s cliffhanger ending. In terms of the storyline, it makes a lot of sense for Martha not to want to leave her fiancé behind; the look on her face when she retrieved her engagement ring from her dying clone said it all. More significantly though, ending the episode in such a captivating manner harks back to the days of the first Doctor when one serial would flow seamlessly into the next, and there would seldom be a week where the audience wouldn’t be left hanging. And we may be heading deep into first Doctor territory very soon, considering the controversial title of next week’s offering...
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2008
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
When is now? This story takes place between Partners in Crime (late December 2008) and Beautiful Chaos (Friday 15th May 2009). As Beautiful Chaos suggests that these events took place only shortly before that novel, we take the view that they took place in late April 2009, approximately a year ahead of transmission.
When were the Blunder Days? Here the Doctor comments that he worked for UNIT in either the 1970s or 1980s; he’s not sure which decade. He’s not the only one…
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